Opinion: Sorry France je regrette I won’t be coming to live in your country

Stacia Briggs contemplates the pros and cons of a move across the Channel... Stacia Briggs contemplates the pros and cons of a move across the Channel...

Monday, June 16, 2014
9:43 AM

Mon nom est Stacia Briggs et je suis allé en France pour mes vacances et c’était très agréable. J’avais une baguette et un peu de fromage et une glace.

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I have just got back from a week with our cousins across the Channel where I spent seven days with Norfolk’s D-Day heroes (and heroine) and their families and friends – when we weren’t drinking, eating bread or driving past another shop that was closed, we were debating whether or not we could live in France.

On the whole, we decided we couldn’t, which is either good news if you like me or bad news if you don’t. I don’t suit stripy T-shirts, strings of onions or berets and – call me a prude – I’d be narked if my boyfriend took several mistresses. But in the spirit of a maths GCSE, here are my workings out so that you can see how I reached my answer.

Reasons why I might not want to move to France:

• You spend six years conjugating verbs, countless hours getting to grips with a language that has too many vowels to be decent and then, when you unleash the lingo en France, the French answer you in English. “Je voudrais un sandwich au fromage, s’il vous plait,” I asked the other day (I was in a shop that sold sandwiches. To be fair, I might have asked the same thing if I was in a shop that sold hats because it’s about the only sentence I am vaguely secure about using). “We’ve only got cheese with ham,” came the heavily-accented reply. “Est-ce trop demander que vous pourriez me repondre en Francais?” I replied, with legendary British sarcasm. I didn’t really. I just bought an éclair.

• Being a vegetarian in rural France is a real challenge. By ‘challenge’, I mean ‘impossibility’. A vegetarian salad in France is one where the cow’s heart, liver, kidneys and anal glands have been removed from your plate at the table and replaced with bacon. Or a crayfish with an accusing look on its face. Even worse, thanks to our deeply inadequate education system and our inherent mistrust of anything foreign, there are only about three people in Britain who understand French menus, and they’re all too traumatised to speak of the horrors they have seen. Everything on the menu looks fantastic, but that’s because you have absolutely no idea what it is and are simply bowled over by the fact it’s written in another language. The French telephone directory would look equally tasty. Every meal is a potential minefield. I wouldn’t be surprised if the desserts are all made from offal.

• Being in France on a Sunday is like living in Old Costessey on a Sunday in the early 1980s. Nothing is open, there’s nothing to do, everyone has to pretend that it’s really great to spend lots of time eyeball-to-eyeball with their family. The major difference is that in France, everyone is perpetually drunk, so nothing really matters.

• And on the subject of drink… we are forever being told that the Europeans are streets ahead of us when it comes to their attitude to alcohol, and that what we call child abuse (giving Jean-Pierre wine at the age of two) they call a “relaxed drinking culture”. According to the French, the Brits approach licensing laws like a parched man in the desert who comes across a water fountain – we drink as much as we can as quickly as we can and then we fall over, vomit, fight or stand in the road shouting “Darren – leave it – he i’nt worth it!” In France nobody spends their weekend binge drinking and passing out on the pavement. This is mainly because they are all far too bladdered to get to the pub, having had their first aperitif at 6.30am. They drink in the morning. They drink at lunchtime. They drink in the afternoon. They drink in the evening. I’m not entirely convinced that they don’t spend the night hooked up to a wine drip.

• It’s not only Sundays when shops aren’t open. It’s evenings. And early mornings. Basically, your default mode should be one of assuming that no shops will be open, ever. The French have a laissez-faire (see? A week in France and I’m practically native) attitude towards work, by which I mean they don’t do a great deal of it.

• My Mum doesn’t live there.

• The French have 13 bank holidays a year. T-h-i-r-t-e-e-n. Bank holidays are like covert Sundays that creep up on you stealthily like diabetes or dry rot and on top of the bank holidays you’ve then got actual Sundays, and that’s before you factor in holidays, the fact that the French appear to take all of August off and when they’re not on holiday they’re on strike, at the doctor’s asking for suppositories for illnesses they haven’t got, eating, drinking or taking another mistress. It’s astonishing the French have an economy at all.

• Do the French use fresh milk? I didn’t see any in seven days. Their tea is awful, too.

• It is considered unseemly for women to get drunk, eat in public or act in an unladylike way. Which means only seven per cent of my life would be deemed acceptable by the French.

Reasons why I might want to move to France:

• Everyone speaks English! Forget all that tiresome business about learning a language and assimilating and making an effort – just go to France and everyone will fall over backwards to talk to you in your native tongue. Sometimes, they even translate menus for you so that you don’t feel like an idiot, although I’m not sure if knowing that you’re eating ‘fish intestine curry’ will make it any tastier. Probably the reverse.

• No one does baked goods like the French. Don’t get me wrong, I love that bakery on Unthank Road next to the Co-op and have often taken the lazy mother route of sending my son off to school with one of its sausage rolls as a ‘packed lunch’ (it’s in a bag, isn’t it?), but French patisseries serve slices of actual heaven. Yes, there’s offal on absolutely everything that’s savoury, yes the literal translation of their ‘batard’ rolls is something unmentionable in English but have you seen their cakes?

• It’s easy to be a vegetarian in France – you just have to make a few adjustments to your diet. In other words, you just have to eat cakes.

• The French way of life is so laid back that it’s astonishing anyone ever stands up. I’m not even sure there’s a French word for ‘stress’ – in fact there’s so little to be worried about that the French have become a nation of hypochondriacs just so they’ve got something to do. The French consume 40 per cent more prescription pills than their European neighbours and le malade imaginaire is the nation’s favourite hobby – it is a fact that every prescription written in France includes an order for suppositories. This means they have lots of public toilets – always a bonus.

• There are lots of pancakes in France. I love pancakes. I am still in mourning for Tombland’s Pizza One, Pancakes Two (RIP).

• The French have 13 bank holidays a year! Going to work would be a novelty, rather than a chore and you couldn’t even spend the holidays listlessly perusing the aisles at a DIY shop before embarking on an unwise home décor project because THE SHOPS ARE NEVER OPEN.

• The houses are nicer, the streets are cleaner, Paris is astonishing and I’ve had the best times of my life there, people think you’re chic if you wear all-black and don’t shout “Halloween’s over, love” at you, the weather is better and the cheese boards laugh in the face of British ones. Come to think of it, why am I not moving to France again?

11 comments

  • I think Mrs Briggs would indeed regret it, were she to live in France! Her miserably failed attempt at being humorous can also point to the dangers of that kind of approach. It is wrong to put all into the same category, be it people or a country as a whole. Sweeping generalisations are meaningless, reveal a lack of insight and unwillingness to understand. I dread to think what Mrs Briggs would think of getting fined in Belgium for not going to vote, or for crossing the zebra crossing when the little man was red, or being expected to vote in Switzerland’s referendums on 11 Sundays in 2013, and 7 times so far this year. That might put a spanner in the works when you want to go shopping (again) at B&Q or M&S or enjoy a nice Sunday BigMac. Think of the insult when, in Italy, you are served up a mere 1.5cm of the stuff when ordering a coffee. Thankfully the vast majority enjoy it, because that’s how it is….ie. “different”. Presumably with all those shopping jaunts Mrs B. doesn’t have time to enjoy other possible Sunday activities like “goin’ troshin”, “dwoile flunkin”, of even listening to some high-class music, like the singin’ Pus’man… shame, cos they are something different too ! Anyway, let’s hope you get a bit further than Calais next time you venture out of the UK. Maybe I’ll be spending a delightful wend in Norfolk at the same time, assuming the A11 isn’t blocked at Elveden or the trains from Liverpool St are running.

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    Andrew Plummer

    Friday, June 20, 2014

  • As usual, a great column. Thanks for making me laugh Stacia.

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    harpo51

    Wednesday, June 18, 2014

  • Well, Ms Brigg, don't feel too sorry about not wanting to move to France, we might not have wanted you there anyway. I have to say that as the French wife of an Englishman from Norwich, as a lover of the UK in general and Norfolk in particular I was shocked and saddened to read such a load of idiotic nonsense. Most of the things depicted in this so-called funny article are wrong anyway, and it shows a total lack of openmindedness, which for a journalist, is not a very good feature. I will not spend too much time to contradict what is being said there, as I see some EDP readers know better than that. First time ever that I've read that we're supposed to be drunk all the time and eat tripe at every meal !! we regularly entertain family and friends at our flat in Paris or our house in Burgundy, and nobody has ever complained about the quality of the meals....This kind of so-called "humour" does not do anything to bring our countries together. I don't think that it would be much appreciated if I said that the English only eat pink jelly and mint sauce, and if I were commenting on the Queen's choice of colours or her outfits. The Hundred Years' War is not over, by the looks of it. What a shame.

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    Andrew Plummer

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

  • I second that Lucioperca. Being married to a French girl I've spent a great deal of time in France over the past 12 years. The French have a completely different view of life, and a completely different set of values and motivations. From what I've witnessed I can only think Stacia Briggs only experienced a very small part of France and its people for a very short period of time. Indeed village shops are somewhat unpredictable with their trading hours, but that is usually because the shop keeper fulfils other roles within the community. For example, where my in-laws live the baker delivers the post, and also runs a small-holding producing various other products. It's all part of the charm of the place. Yes Sundays can indeed be quiet, even within the towns and cities. This surely is no bad thing? Sunday is treated as a day of relaxation, and to spend time over lunch with family and friends. Why do we feel the need to spend our Sundays at B&Q instead?

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    Mellow_Yellow

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

  • Utter rubbish! We came to France 12 years ago from darkest North Norfolk. Family life here is important and no Shops open at night or on Sunday is heaven. We know our neighbours, children say bonjour on way to school. Yes fresh milk is available in supermarkets and it's also available from a machine when shops are closed. As for reading menus we have no problem - you can always ask Waitress if there's anything you don't understand. As for the Health system - normal for same day appointments for GP and non urgent hospital two or three Days. Dates given for ops etc are not cancelled. No we won't be returning to Uk.

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    Knitting Needles

    Tuesday, June 17, 2014

  • Milan are you sure you have read my post correctly.Stacia has a regular column in the EEN on Mondays, you obviously haven't been reading your local paper.As for the other two.Nah.I'll give them a miss.

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    Trevor Sadd

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • @Lucioperca, I agree, it's just lazy nonsense, I wonder how she even gets employed to write her dreary articles.

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    Rob_H

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • I'm a younger EDP reader but this is the funniest article I've ever read in over 15 years of reading the paper.....love it the more I read and Trevor you really are sad if you don't get humour. Never really heard of Stacia Briggs before but I'd love to be at a dinner party talking to you. Brilliantly funny article and why I will keep reading the paper....now reading your previous articles. A very funny woman.....love it

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    Milan Marcus

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • Wouldn't it be more correct to say that France is as different to Britain as London is to - say - Birmingham or Newcastle or Edinburgh? Does Paris have the ubiquitous drunken lout scenes as Norwich does on a Saturday - or any other - night; is it really important to be able to shop at 1:00 AM Sunday morning and wouldn't we all like to have thirteen holidays a year instead of working like dogs to satisfy the bosses who get payed a hundred times what we do? Does Paris have the fish and chip wrappings scattered all over the place as Norwich does because the locals are too dirty and too lazy to keep our once "Fine City' clean? The list goes on, and I agree, it's a silly article.

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    kenneth jessett

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • @Trevor Sadd ...please tell me you are being sarcastic. This has to be the most incipid, stereo-typical piece of lazy writing I have had the mis-fortune to read. I can boil this whole article down to three elements: "the French eat lots of meat, she hates the shop opening hours but the pancakes are great". Compelling stuff don't you agree? On reflection my summary is more amusing than the article, which is nothing short of a poor attempt at the current trend for ironic observational comedy much like Michael MacIntyre, Jack Whitehall, Sean Locke etc ....except they are good at it.

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    Lucioperca

    Monday, June 16, 2014

  • I really do enjoy reading the Stacia Briggs column in the EDP.She is a fine journalist with a very good sense of humour

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    Trevor Sadd

    Monday, June 16, 2014

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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